By Micki Wagner
In the world of wellness, amidst the pantheon of wellness brands, there is only one goop. The lifestyle and wellness brand founded by actress Gwyneth Paltrow back in 2008 as an email newsletter has expanded into a $250 million behemoth that encompasses a clothing line, wellness products, clean beauty products that they both curate from other retailers and make themselves, a Netflix show and an upcoming virtual summit. And if you’ve ever heard of goop, then you know how disruptive the company can be, causing a media stir over products like jade eggs and the company’s latest NSFW candle scent.
“I think that the criticism of us is quite revealing on the part of the people who criticize,” says Elise Loehnen, goop’s chief content officer.
Worth spoke to Loehnen about how goop is becoming more accessible in light of COVID, what she makes of the criticism the brand often faces and how goop is pushing the envelope to make women feel more empowered.
Q: So, jumping right in, how is goop changing due to COVID and what challenges, and in turn opportunities, have you all encountered during this time?
A: I think that one thing that’s become abundantly clear with COVID and its mortality in combination with the various comorbidities is that collectively we all need sort of a different health care system, a much better health care system, and that we need to really focus on upstream health. And that’s, in many ways, what we’ve always been about, is the idea of keeping ourselves and the people who follow us on the well end of the wellness spectrum, so that you’re never grappling with any of these chronic diseases. And so, I think it’s made our mission feel more relevant and more essential and more urgent. And I think that we’re seeing that throughout the country, that people are now recognizing that they need to fix their diets, they need to fix their response to stress, they need to sleep more. And so, if anything, it’s been sort of a reflection of maintaining that message and that we’re sort of on the right track, if that makes sense, that this is what people really need support to do.
Totally. So tell me a little bit about goop’s upcoming In goop Health: The At-Home Summit. What can we expect from it and what is goop seeking to accomplish with it?
Yeah, so we had more or less gotten into a rhythm of doing several in-person In goop Health summits, and it was a format that we love and that we know how to do well, and it’s really fun to bring people together and create and transform these spaces and make it this truly immersive day. And obviously with COVID and recognizing almost immediately that we would not be able to bring people together in any way anytime soon, we wanted to continue to feed that community and maintain that pace of shared experience and find a way to continue to do workshops and seminars in the way that In goop Health delivers. And so we started to immediately do sort of an In goop Health Wednesday session, which have been a mixed bag of conversations, classes, meditations, et cetera.
And then we decided, based on that appetite and just talking to the people in our community who come to In goop Health, that they really wanted a chance to gather, even if we couldn’t be together physically. And so we decided to refine our skills and also realized that people understand that we’re producing this remotely and that it doesn’t have to be perfect in that same way that we hold ourselves to that standard in real normal life, but that we could do it and bring it together and create a day. And the major upside and the really fun part has been that people who normally can’t get to In goop Health, either because of location or cost, are really excited to get a taste of what a day like that is.
The programming for this summit looks really interesting.
Clearly, like, we can’t all work out together, we can’t all breathe together, et cetera, but we wanted to sort of mark this moment of transition for everyone. I don’t know any time in recent history, and I know everyone’s tired of hearing, “unprecedented time,” but we’re really all going through a collective transition, a remarkable transition. I don’t know when that will ever…it will likely never happen again in our lifetimes. And so, we wanted to acknowledge that.
And then the other fun part of summits, or In goop Health typically, is that you can sort of choose your path. And so, we wanted to also make sure that we had enough range so that people felt like there were things that they were really interested in, but that they didn’t have to necessarily go to everything.
I’ve been told you work very closely with goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow. How have you seen her leadership style adapt to meet the challenges that COVID and this year have presented?
I think that for all of us, and I’m sure anyone who leads any company can relate, it’s really hard when you are used to being together in person. We always do our weekly standup on Tuesday mornings, which is typically always in person. It’s a really nice way to get everyone in the company to gather and to share about what’s happening across different parts of the business and the brand.
And so, we’ve carried stuff like that to online, which clearly isn’t the same experience, but we tried to really encourage people to ask questions anonymously or directly. We’ve done [virtual] happy hour and tried to set up classes and whatnot just for goop staff so we can all stay connected beyond Slack, which we’re on all the time, but it’s hard. And I certainly feel for the people who started during COVID or immediately before COVID, you don’t have the shorthand that many of us have had who’ve worked together for so long, but we’re continuously trying to think of ways with the group to stay tight when we can’t modulate our energy with everyone else.
It’s interesting. I’m sure you feel the same way, like it’s just really hard. It’s sort of like the whole, you can’t infer tone from text and email. Also, without access to people’s body language and the presence of people, it’s hard to really understand what’s happening with everyone. So, we’re just modifying and evolving and trying to stay as close as we can.
So, I don’t have to tell you this, but goop obviously does a lot, from product and shopping to stories, The goop Lab on Netflix, this upcoming at-home summit. I’m curious how you would characterize goop’s business model and what people can expect to see from goop moving forward.
Yeah. As mentioned, we do a lot of different things, and historically our business has been, I’d say, sort of three buckets divided by two in a way. There’s our media business, our partnership business, which we run sort of like a traditional content side, and experiential is a huge part of that. And that really drives a lot of our marketing and our in-person events. We like to collaborate and do those in partnership with like-minded brands. And then the bigger part of our business is our e-commerce and retail. So retail, we have a handful of stores in various parts of the country. And we do a lot of pop-ups, again, typically in partnership. And then e-commerce, we sell other brands that we love and carry the selection from other clean beauty brands.
We have home, we have some wellness, we have a fair amount of fashion, and then we make our own products. So, we have a clothing line, G. Label, which has different components. There’s a core collection, there’s label, there’s the dress collection. And then we have our clean beauty line, which is ingestibles and creams and bath salts and vitamin C serums, et cetera. So, it’s sort of a range of body care, hair care and primarily skin care.
I don’t know if that encapsulates it, but we find the people who engage across and come to our events and shop tend to be our most valuable cohort. Probably not surprising, but the people who are really touching all parts of what we do.
I would imagine with something like The goop Lab you were able to reach kind of a newer base of people.
I want to focus in on that for a second. I found the show to be really emotional and revealing and empowering. Whereas this new show that’s just aired on Netflix, Unwell, showcases a much darker side of wellness and how dangerous some practices can be. In watching that, I began wondering if there’s a goop take on the kind of dark and dangerous side of wellness, and what you make of that.
Yeah. I mean, I think that if you look at any industry, whether it’s wellness or law or education, there’s just shadow and light, always. There are people who perform sort of the highest levels of standards, the utmost integrity. And then, there are people who are invariably going to take advantage or bottom feed. And I haven’t finished Unwell, but I think that what they were trying to do is difficult. For example, like even in the one that I watched, the aromatherapy episode, I thought they did a good job of representing the fact that there’s not a ton of clinical research about the power of essential oils, but then they do seem to have a really positive impact for some people. They’re not going to cure a disease, but they can certainly help people sleep or calm down. So, I thought they did a good job with that part of the story.
And then I feel like the edge case they presented of the woman putting them on her body was quite extreme. I don’t know anyone who would actually recommend that. And then MLMs, I think that’s a tough and sometimes weird business model, but not necessarily.
I feel like they were sort of conflating, like MLM’s business models happen across industry.
But then I felt like they were conflating the two. So, I don’t know. I think, of course, anyone who is selling these concepts as sort of the end-all, cure-all for everyone is on thin ice. But I also think that the idea of tantra, for example, or energy healing—I haven’t finished that episode—of course there’s power in that for many people. And that’s sort of the approach that we like to take, which is to be open-minded, do our research, not take claims that seem too good to be true, but at the same time acknowledge that these things do have power for people.
We’re good at going first, we don’t mind the brambles in the face, and to continue to do that and push on the conversations that we all need to be having, even when they’re uncomfortable, that’s how we break norms collectively.
What would you say to people who think goop pushes the edge too much?
I think that people who say that aren’t necessarily super familiar with what we do. And I think that throughout the years, we’ve been defined by edge case press, which I think in and of itself is quite interesting, and makes people behave in sort of a hysterical way. Like the idea of the jade eggs, et cetera. Which to me, I’m like, “That’s a Kegel aid.” It’s very healing for some women. So why disparage that or deny that, and like what harm does that do to you? I think that the criticism of us is quite revealing on the part of the people who criticize, if that makes sense.
For the most part, we don’t do any stories that would suggest that there’s only one way to go about a path to wellness, or that you should disavow Western medicine, or…we’re always arguing that the two are quite complementary and work best in conjunction. So, you would never find us suggesting, “Oh, don’t get chemotherapy. Only do acupuncture or praying yourself to wellness,” et cetera. We just don’t do that. And we don’t ever present ourselves as experts. We find really credible, interesting people working in the field across the range, and then sort of give our readers direct access to them and ask them the questions that we think most people would have. And that’s what we want—people to feel empowered, people to feel curious, people to feel like there are no bad questions and that what works for them might be different than what works for someone else, but that doesn’t make it wrong or bad.
Totally. I really like what you said about how the criticism of goop is quite revealing of the people who are criticizing, especially because it appears to me that a lot of the things people criticize are very female-centric. I think that’s fascinating.
Exactly. Yeah, it’s deeply fascinating that it creates so much anxiety for people when we talk about vulvas and women’s access to pleasure, and it’s wild to me because we’re also not suggesting that women alter themselves or groom themselves. We’re not preaching a sort of powerlessness or, “You need to change yourself to be appealing to your partner.” The stuff that we write about is about owning it and finding strength and power there for yourself. It’s really not about a vanity play or making women feel bad. It’s pretty much still the opposite. And so, it’s interesting that it is so inciting.y
For sure. And The goop Lab episode that focused on women’s pleasure I thought was so fascinating because I’ve never seen anything like that before. And I found it really empowering and also, in hindsight, really strange that I’d never seen anything like that before.
Right! That’s the thing that’s so shocking about the episode. It’s shocking that it’s not shocking, and yet it was revelatory TV. It’s really interesting. Again, it’s very remarkable and yet we’ve never seen it. And how is that?
Did you guys do that intentionally when you were planning out what the episodes would be, that that would be a center point because it’s just not something that’s really televised much?
To be honest, we just sort of went for it. And then, and we didn’t quite know what stories would emerge. And if not, the show wasn’t at all scripted, et cetera, nor was it planned in that way, if that makes sense, for a specific outcome. And so, Shauna, our showrunner, and the all-female crew had just gone and shot with Betty and Carlin and Lexi. And then we sort of had it. And we put it together, and to see it in totality was a very emotional experience. We didn’t know, honestly, whether Netflix would say, “This is too much,” and I know that there was a lot of conversation there and I think it was similar to this conversation. Like, “How is this so shocking, and what does that say about us culturally and collectively?” And then they fully got behind it, which was amazing. So, it just felt like what we needed to put out there.
I love that. So, coming back to the wellness industry, how do you think the wellness industry is changing to meet the moment we’re in right now?
I think that we’re seeing massive shifts in terms of consumption, away from certainly some products, but really toward experiencing. And I think people are recognizing that time and health are indeed like the most priceless resources that we have and that they need to be treasured and cherished. And so, what we’re seeing is sort of an interest in that part of our site in general just from a content perspective, down to people wanting to buy a meditation pillow or some incense or a journal. I think people, particularly in COVID, are really wanting to get close to themselves and to be a little bit more conscious about the decisions that they’re making and how they’re living their lives and spending their time. And I think that that will be enduring. I think that maybe if this had been a two-month blip, we would have sort of gone back to “normal.”
But I think what’s happened with COVID, with BLM and with now fires, et cetera, I think that we’re all where we’re no longer trapped in the busyness of the daily grind. And now everyone is, I think, starting to really acknowledge their role and the role that they need to play. And I think that will last, and I think that people are taking inventory of their lives and also the products that they’re buying and what they’re choosing to surround themselves with, and who they want to be on the go forward.
And I think that we’ll see that as a more permanent shift. People wanting transparency, wanting to know where the products come from, who makes that, what’s in them, has anyone been harmed in the creation, who’s benefiting? I truly think that that will last and that companies that have worked with transparency and integrity, clearly not always able to deliver to our highest ideals all the time, but I do think that that intention will track…I think people really want to recognize that the things that they engage with reflect their values.
What impact does goop hope to have moving forward, and what can we expect to come from goop from this moment on?
I think that we always try to be extremely transparent. That’s the basis of the clean beauty shop and the wellness products that we sell, ensuring that they go through the portal, that we know what’s in them, it matches what they say is in them and that has that potency. And we’re trying to do that across vertical. And just to ensure, again, all of those things—that the products that we’re making are as clean as possible, as good for the planet as things can be and that they’re made with the integrity that we would expect. And then finding ways to clarify that and make that more transparent to the people who engage with us. And ideally, it’s a sort of model. We’re good at going first, we don’t mind the brambles in the face, and to continue to do that and push on the conversations that we all need to be having, even when they’re uncomfortable, that’s how we break norms collectively.
That’s how we get to this point where we can make that episode on sexual pleasure and all look back and say, “Wow, that was crazy,” and, “Wow, how crazy is it that that was crazy?” And that’s how the status quo changes, you know? I think it’s very human to resist change and to not want to be pushed and to not like people who ask questions, but that’s how we evolve and change and that’s how it’s always been. So, I think we’ll continue to champion that and hopefully be one of the companies representing that in the culture.